Monday, July 24, 2017

Overrated Classic: Fritz Fischer's Germany's Aims in the First World War

Fritz Fischer's Germany's Aims in the First World War is an acclaimed classic, usually cited for breaking with forty years of German accepted wisdom that, unlike in 1939, in 1914 Germany “slid” blamelessly into war (to quote UK PM Lloyd-George). That is to say, Fischer asserted iconoclastically that the German Reich bore "a substantial share of the historical responsibility for the outbreak of the general war." And this assertion, commonly accepted outside of Germany long before Fischer's 1961 pronouncement, is what gained Germany's Aims in the First World War such fame and notoriety – even though Fischer himself states in his book “It is not the purpose of this work (to debate) the question of war guilt.” p 87 And truly, what Fischer spends over 500 pages on is not war guilt, but an effort to show that the Second Reich sought to use the war to establish itself as a “world power,” through the political annexation of its nearest neighbors and the economic subordination of much of Europe into a Mitteleuropa.

Unfortunately for readability, Fischer pursues this goal by repetitive chronological rendering of state papers and the opinions of Germany's government officials and occasionally politicians and leading businessmen. Make no mistake, getting through this tome is a slog, one that is rarely rewarding.

Fischer's genuine thesis is buried halfway through the book:
“Leading circles in Germany were convinced that only a victorious war ending in substantial gains would enable them to maintain their political and social order;” p. 329 Such a stance certainly explains the stubbornness with which the Emperor, Army (and Navy), and Reich and Prussian governments held to to arrogant war aims – domination of Belgium and Poland, exploitation of Romania, seizure of the Baltic, Ukraine, even Caucasus, and commandeering the mine fields of northeast France.

But Fischer's emptying of the German archives into his expose leads him astray, by overvaluing any and all documents that support his thesis of an unchecked German will to power. For example, he cites the views of the head of the German Colonial Association and the head of the Reich Colonial Office as proof of German war aims in Africa. p. 587 Bureaucratically, an organization will always advocate for its own narrow goals, irrespective of whether those goals serve the greater good. Without clear evidence that the goal was accepted by the state, such views are interesting, but not dispositive. One might as well say a child's wish for a pony proves the existence of the stable.

And again, Fischer proffers arguments such as that on page 603:
“a long report (in June 1918) by the [Prussian] Ministry of State (was) one more testimony to Prussia's obstinate determination to expand....” It is more likely that the report is testimony to the inertia of bureaucracy, offering reports to the captain on how to arrange the deckchairs long after hitting the iceberg.

The past few years have seen numerous new books on the question of why the Great War broke out. Any of them, even the least of them, is a better contribution to the field than Fischer at this date.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Neither Confirm Nor Deny

"The White House does not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals," said a White House spokesperson who declined to be named.
1) So, the WH statement is, itself, anonymous - and not to be believed?

2) "Neither confirm nor deny" is known as the Glomar response (see Wikipedia) -- aka a non-denial denial -- - and it turned out that the denial was demonstratively false. Or, as the NZ Government concluded when the US Navy refused to "confirm or deny" whether nuclear weapons were on board ships planning to make port visits - yep, there's nukes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Word of the Day

Capricious.
: changing often and quickly; especially : often changing suddenly in mood or behavior
: not logical or reasonable : based on an idea, desire, etc., that is not possible to predict
(from Merriam-Webster)

The Anomaly of Employer-Paid Health Insurance

Ever wonder why health insurance in the US is provided through employers, which is NOT the norm in countries with health coverage? (pace Miss USA)
1939—Revenue Act of 1939 (Sec. 104), establishes employee tax exclusion for compensation for injuries, sickness, or both received under workers' compensation, accident, or health insurance.
"The link between employment and private health insurance was strengthened during World War II when in 1943 the War Labor Board ruled that controls over wages and prices imposed by the 1942 Stabilization Act did not apply to fringe benefits such as health insurance. In response to this ruling, many employers used insurance benefits to attract and retain scarce labor."

Two-term Presidents

To date, no incumbent President who has sought renomination to the office has been denied his party's endorsement. (Some, most recently Bush the elder, didn't get re-elected in November.)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

New Rule : Put Up or Shut Up

djt's aides keep telling us that he's gone to one of his golfclubs for "meetings and phone calls." djt leaves after 4 1/2 hours (an average golf game lasts four hours - and he needs time to change), after being espied wearing golf togs (shoes, glove, gold slacks, polo shirt).   then we are NOT told who djt "met" with, or "called", let alone who he played with. Meanwhile the press is tucked away in a corner of the club.

New rule: the press is allowed to place 18 photographers, no audio recording equipment, at the golf club while djt is having "meetings and phone calls": one at each hole. (If the course is larger, say 27 holes, the photo pool gets larger.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Partisanship

It is expected that if the ACHA passes, it will do so with solely GOP votes, just as the ACA passed with just Dem votes. It wasn't always this way.

In late 1940 FDR had just won an unprecedented (and now unrepeatable) third term as President, with 55% of the popular vote and 85% of the Electoral vote. FDR proposed that the US should be the "Arsenal of Democracy," supplying the sole major country still in the fight (Great Britain and her Empire and Dominions) with the means to fight. He then proposed "Lend-Lease," to allow the increasingly destitute British to acquire weapons, ammunition, and materiel even without the means to pay.

The House voted on the bill in February:

                                      Aye               Nay
Democrats                    238                25

GOP                                24              135

The Senate voted in March:

Democrats                      49                 13

GOP                                10                 17

Apparently, back then, it was thought the representatives of the people, not the party leadership, should decide on important issues.